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What to know about the newly-identified 'stealth Omicron' variant

Omicron has quickly became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States. Now, scientists are keeping a close eye on a new subvariant.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — The omicron variant has quickly become the dominant strain in the United States. Our country is averaging more than 740,000 new cases a day, and omicron is responsible for nearly all of them.

“We’re all tired of this at this point, [and] we’re over two years in,” said Jill Dettinger of York Township.

Now, scientists are keeping a close eye on a new, potentially more contagious version known as BA.2, or “stealth omicron.”

“Where it’s concerning is the increased transmissibility of the BA.2 variant compared to the BA.1,” said Dr. Raghav Tirupathi, the medical director of the Infection Prevention program at WellSpan Health’s Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.

The BA.2 variant is on the rise in dozens of countries including Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Several cases have also been detected in the U.S.

“It’s too early to make predictions," said Tirupathi. "The data from Denmark says the transmissibility is high but the severity is pretty much the same."

So far, vaccines still seem effective against “stealth omicron.”

What makes this strain different from the original is its additional spike protein mutations which make it harder to detect on a PCR test.

“[I’m] a little scared but what are we going to do?" asked Debbie Esworthy of Dallastown. "I got my shots, and that’s about it. I wear a mask in the stores and stuff."

Two years into the pandemic, many people like Esworthy are suffering from COVID fatigue.

“These variants are just going to keep popping up over time, and we’re just going to have to learn to deal with it," said Dettinger. "Vaccines help, masking helps, but it’s getting old."

Scientists have always expected the virus to mutate. So, the question becomes, when do we stop worrying about new variants?

“I would be less worried about this BA.2 variant and more worried about a new variant popping out of nowhere with more severe mutations,” said Tirupathi.

Many experts have predicted omicron may create a more widespread immunity, helping the pandemic turn to an endemic.

But Tirupathi says it’s still too soon to let our guards down.

“More than three-quarters of the world is not vaccinated, and that’s perfect breeding ground for new variants,” he said.

Until we know more, doctors continue to stress importance of getting vaccinated, masking up and washing your hands.

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